This is a short story of how I lost all my SMS messages on my Android phone, then got (most of) them back, and in the process learned how horrible Android TelephonyProvider is.

Once upon a time, I woke up and all of my messages were gone. Well, it wasn't really out of nowhere, a few android services were updated the day before, and I guess that had something to do with the..slight vanishing of things.

After freaking out because I had a lot of messages there I'd like to keep (some of which are from people who are no longer among the living), I tried to figure out what happened and if there is a way to bring them back.

Luckily, I discovered there is a backup file, of origin unknown, and about a month old. SMS data is usually stored in an SQLite database located in /data/data/, so I tried simply copying the backup file to that location, but the app refused to use it and always created a new database, deleting the existing.

After quite a bit of searching, I discovered that the backup database is corrupt, and was being rejected by the SQLite driver. Fixing it means losing some data (~300 messages in my case), but it's still a better deal than losing everything. I restored as much as possible by running this:

  $ echo '.dump' | sqlite3 mmssms.db | sqlite3 mmssms-repaired.db

Unfortunately that version of the database didn't work either, the app still refused to use it and deleted everything again. Using logcat I managed to find a lot broken queries run by "MmsSmsDatabaseHelper", and by broken I mean table migrations for tables which were already created. So the app was trying to migrate a database (and that's probably fine), but it still didn't explain why it would delete everything if it failed?

The horror, the horror

And then I saw the monster which is, more precisely, the monster which is the onUpgrade method. If you've opened that, you're staring at a method which has 300+ lines of code which is supposed to migrate the database, but which will also delete everything in the database if it fails...anywhere. Just ran a query which creates a table, and that table already exists? Well, say goodbye to your data!

So basically, instead of doing migrations like a normal person, they did that... that thing, whatever that is. I have no idea how something shitty like this can be in production. I can understand bugs and corrupt databases, error and mistakes are an integral part of software engineering, but I can't understand having code which deletes users' data on purpose. That's just beyond ridiculous.

Anyway, the solution was to find out which migrations were not executed on the restored database, update it manually, and then set the database version to the one being migrated to (PRAGMA user_version = 60;). I found the necessary information by looking through,, and logcat.

Bonus *

Check this out:

E/MmsSmsDatabaseHelper( 2414): android.database.sqlite.SQLiteException: table cmas already exists (code 1): , while compiling: CREATE TABLE cmas (_id INTEGER PRIMARY KEY AUTOINCREMENT,sms_id INTEGER,thread_id INTEGER,service_category INTEGER,category INTEGER,response_type INTEGER,severity INTEGER,urgency INTEGER,certainty INTEGER,identifier INTEGER,alert_handling INTEGER,expires INTEGER,language INTEGER,expired INTEGER DEFAULT 1);
E/MmsSmsDatabaseHelper( 2414):  at

Looks like a normal error message?

And it is...except for the fact that you can't really find that migration!

upgradeDatabaseToVersion57 does something completely unrelated, and googling "upgradeDatabaseToVersion57 cmas" (and similar queries) gets you "Your search did not match any documents". Either my google-fu is seriously flawed (a distinct possibility), or this is some new ninja-migration stuff.

Either way, whoever wrote this migration code should be visited by ninjas.


08 July 2015